No. 307. Thursday, February 21, 1712. Budgell.

--Versate diu quid ferre recusent Quid valeant humeri--

I am so well pleased with the following Letter, that I am in hopes it will not be a disagreeable Present to the Publick.

Sir, Though I believe none of your Readers more admire your agreeable manner of working up Trifles than my self, yet as your Speculations are now swelling into Volumes, and will in all Probability pass down to future Ages, methinks I would have no single Subject in them, wherein the general Good of Mankind is concern'd, left unfinished.

I have a long time expected with great Impatience that you would enlarge upon the ordinary Mistakes which are committed in the Education of our Children. I the more easily flattered my self that you would one time or other resume this Consideration, because you tell us that your 168th Paper was only composed of a few broken Hints; but finding myself hitherto disappointed, I have ventur'd to send you my own Thoughts on this Subject.

I remember Pericles in his famous Oration at the Funeral of those Athenian young Men who perished in the Samian Expedition, has a Thought very much celebrated by several Ancient Criticks, namely, That the Loss which the Commonwealth suffered by the Destruction of its Youth, was like the Loss which the Year would suffer by the Destruction of the Spring. The Prejudice which the Publick sustains from a wrong Education of Children, is an Evil of the same Nature, as it in a manner starves Posterity, and defrauds our Country of those Persons who, with due Care, might make an eminent Figure in their respective Posts of Life.

I have seen a Book written by Juan Huartes,[1] a Spanish Physician, entitled Examen de Ingenios, wherein he lays it down as one of his first Positions, that Nothing but Nature can qualifie a Man for Learning; and that without a proper Temperament for the particular Art or Science which he studies, his utmost Pains and Application, assisted by the ablest Masters, will be to no purpose.

He illustrates this by the Example of Tully's Son Marcus.

Cicero, in order to accomplish his Son in that sort of Learning which he designed him for, sent him to Athens, the most celebrated Academy at that time in the World, and where a vast Concourse, out of the most Polite Nations, could not but furnish a young Gentleman with a Multitude of great Examples, and Accidents that might insensibly have instructed him in his designed Studies: He placed him under the Care of Cratippus, who was one of the greatest Philosophers of the Age, and, as if all the Books which were at that time written had not been sufficient for his Use, he composed others on purpose for him: Notwithstanding all this, History informs us, that Marcus proved a meer Blockhead, and that Nature, (who it seems was even with the Son for her Prodigality to the Father) rendered him incapable of improving by all the Rules of Eloquence, the Precepts of Philosophy, his own Endeavours, and the most refined Conversation in Athens. This Author therefore proposes, that there should be certain Tryers or Examiners appointed by the State to inspect the Genius of every particular Boy, and to allot him the Part that is most suitable to his natural Talents.

Plato in one of his Dialogues tells us, that Socrates, who was the Son of a Midwife, used to say, that as his Mother, tho she was very skilful in her Profession, could not deliver a Woman, unless she was first with Child; so neither could he himself raise Knowledge out of a Mind, where Nature had not planted it.

Accordingly the Method this Philosopher took, of instructing his Scholars by several Interrogatories or Questions, was only helping the Birth, and bringing their own Thoughts to Light.

The Spanish Doctor above mentioned, as his Speculations grow more refined, asserts that every kind of Wit has a particular Science corresponding to it, and in which alone it can be truly Excellent. As to those Genius's, which may seem to have an equal Aptitude for several things, he regards them as so many unfinished Pieces of Nature wrought off in haste.

There are, indeed, but very few to whom Nature has been so unkind, that they are not capable of shining in some Science or other. There is a certain Byass towards Knowledge in every Mind, which may be strengthened and improved by proper Applications.

The Story of Clavius [2] is very well known; he was entered in a College of Jesuits, and after having been tryed at several Parts of Learning, was upon the Point of being dismissed as an hopeless Blockhead, till one of the Fathers took it into his Head to make an assay of his Parts in Geometry, which it seems hit his Genius so luckily that he afterwards became one of the greatest Mathematicians of the Age. It is commonly thought that the Sagacity of these Fathers, in discovering the Talent of a young Student, has not a little contributed to the Figure which their Order has made in the World.

How different from this manner of Education is that which prevails in our own Country? Where nothing is more usual than to see forty or fifty Boys of several Ages, Tempers and Inclinations, ranged together in the same Class, employed upon the same Authors, and enjoyned the same Tasks? Whatever their natural Genius may be, they are all to be made Poets, Historians, and Orators alike. They are all obliged to have the same Capacity, to bring in the same Tale of Verse, and to furnish out the same Portion of Prose. Every Boy is bound to have as good a Memory as the Captain of the Form. To be brief, instead of adapting Studies to the particular Genius of a Youth, we expect from the young Man, that he should adapt his Genius to his Studies. This, I must confess, is not so much to be imputed to the Instructor, as to the Parent, who will never be brought to believe, that his Son is not capable of performing as much as his Neighbours, and that he may not make him whatever he has a Mind to.

If the present Age is more laudable than those which have gone before it in any single Particular, it is in that generous Care which several well-disposed Persons have taken in the Education of poor Children; and as in these Charity-Schools there is no Place left for the over-weening Fondness of a Parent, the Directors of them would make them beneficial to the Publick, if they considered the Precept which I have been thus long inculcating. They might easily, by well examining the Parts of those under their Inspection, make a just Distribution of them into proper Classes and Divisions, and allot to them this or that particular Study, as their Genius qualifies them for Professions, Trades, Handicrafts, or Service by Sea or Land.

How is this kind of Regulation wanting in the three great Professions!

Dr. South complaining of Persons who took upon them Holy Orders, tho altogether unqualified for the Sacred Function, says somewhere, that many a Man runs his Head against a Pulpit, who might have done his Country excellent Service at a Plough-tail.

In like manner many a Lawyer, who makes but an indifferent Figure at the Bar, might have made a very elegant Waterman, and have shined at the Temple Stairs, tho he can get no Business in the House.

I have known a Corn-cutter, who with a right Education would have been an excellent Physician.

To descend lower, are not our Streets filled with sagacious Draymen, and Politicians in Liveries? We have several Taylors of six Foot high, and meet with many a broad pair of Shoulders that are thrown away upon a Barber, when perhaps at the same time we see a pigmy Porter reeling under a Burthen, who might have managed a Needle with much Dexterity, or have snapped his Fingers with great Ease to himself, and Advantage to the Publick.

The Spartans, tho they acted with the Spirit which I am here speaking of, carried it much farther than what I propose: Among them it was not lawful for the Father himself to bring up his Children after his own Fancy. As soon as they were seven Years old they were all listed in several Companies, and disciplined by the Publick. The old Men were Spectators of their Performances, who often raised Quarrels among them, and set them at Strife with one another, that by those early Discoveries they might see how their several Talents lay, and without any regard to their Quality, dispose of them accordingly for the Service of the Commonwealth. By this Means Sparta soon became the Mistress of Greece, and famous through the whole World for her Civil and Military Discipline.

If you think this Letter deserves a place among your Speculations, I may perhaps trouble you with some other Thoughts on the same Subject. I am, &c.


[Footnote 1: Juan Huarte was born in French Navarre, and obtained much credit in the sixteenth century for the book here cited. It was translated into Latin and French. The best edition is of Cologne, 1610.]

[Footnote 2: Christopher Clavius, a native of Bamberg, died in 1612, aged 75, at Rome, whither he had been sent by the Jesuits, and where he was regarded as the Euclid of his age. It was Clavius whom Pope Gregory XIII. employed in 1581 to effect the reform in the Roman Calendar promulgated in 1582, when the 5th of October became throughout Catholic countries the 15th of the New Style, an improvement that was not admitted into Protestant England until 1752. Clavius wrote an Arithmetic and Commentaries on Euclid, and justified his reform of the Calendar against the criticism of Scaliger.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. Ars Poet. ver. 39.
'--Often try what weight you can support,
And what your shoulders are too weak to bear.'